The end of the year is always a good time for reflection on movies watched and books read. As I look over the books I managed to finish this year I notice a distressing lack of classic fiction, a lack I hope to remedy in 2009. What fiction I did read was mostly unremarkable. I confess to having read and, dare I admit it, even mildly enjoyed, a couple of high testosterone Vince Flynn thrillers. I also endured Stephen King's logorrheic and highly overrated The Stand. William Young's very popular The Shack was a nice enough story despite its implausibility, and The Fossil Hunters by John Olson was an intermittently entertaining tale of the competition between teams of paleontologists and the dangers inherent in doing field work in hostile countries. That's pretty much the extent of the year's fiction.
There were some other forgettable books which I have duly forgotten, but here are twenty five others (including some of the novels mentioned above) which I've rated on a scale of one to four stars (*poor, **fair, ***good, ****outstanding). A caveat: The rating reflects only my interest in, and enjoyment of, the book and my opinion of its importance. A book on science or philosophy that I rank with 4 stars might seem a complete waste to someone who cares nothing for those subjects:
1. Life's Ultimate Questions, Ronald Nash ***: A good introductory text in philosophy geared to students at a Christian college. Its only drawbacks are Nash's treatment of the early Greeks, which is a bit tedious, and his dismissive treatment of views with which he disagrees.
2. Intelligent Design, Dembski and Ruse ***: Arguments by various scholars pro et contra intelligent design.
3. Theory and Reality, Peter Godfrey-Smith***: A fine survey of the last one hundred years of argument about the nature of science.
4. The Design Matrix - A Consilience of Clues, Mike Gene ****: An explication of the concept of "front-loaded" evolution. In my opinion, Gene has made an important contribution to the debate about intelligent design.
5. Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg ****: Perhaps the most important book I read this year, it makes a compelling case that fascism is a phenomenon of the political left, not, as most people assume, the right.
6. Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne **: Claiborne gets good grades for enthusiasm and for sincerely trying to live up to his understanding of the gospel, but receives low marks for the quality of his reasoning.
7. The Life of the Mind, Clifford Williams ***: This little book would make a nice gift for an academically-oriented student heading off to college.
8. Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright ***: A condensation of his much more voluminous Resurrection of the Son of God.
9. A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley Grenz ****: An excellent and very readable overview of the major figures and ideas associated with postmodern thought.
10. Moral Choices, Scott Rae ***: A good introductory text on ethics from a Christian perspective.
11. The Case for Civility, Os Guinness **: Os makes a plea for greater civility in our politics while diminishing his case by taking jabs at the Bush administration whenever the opportunity presents itself.
12. Devil's Delusion, David Berlinski ***: An amusing critique of modern anti-theism written by an agnostic mathematician.
13. Fossil Hunters, John Olson **: A sometimes interesting but uneven story of a paleontological hunt for a prehistoric fossil in an Islamic country.
14. The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins **: Perhaps the most overrated book of the decade. Dawkins gives us a polemic against God that seems to attack everything but its intended target.
15. The Reason for God, Tim Keller ***: The pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City seeks to answer questions about Christianity posed by seekers among his congregants.
16. God and Other Minds, Alvin Plantinga ***: In one of the most important and influential books in philosophy in the latter half of the twentieth century, Plantinga shows that we know of God's existence in the same way we know that other minds exist. Not for the beginner.
17. The Nature of True Virtue, Jonathan Edwards **: Edwards brings his logical skills to bear in this 18th century discussion of what it means to be virtuous. The book is written in a dense style that makes it less accessible to modern readers than one might wish.
18. The Shack, William Young ***: Young has written an enormously popular tale of a man who manages to overcome terrible grief through a weekend spent with the Trinity.
19. Last Lecture, Randy Pausch **: A book of advice written by a terminally ill computer prof for his children who will grow up without him. Poignant, wise, and funny.
20. The Stand, Stephen King *: Don't bother.
21. Getting it Right, William F. Buckley ***: WFB puts the internecine struggles of the nascent conservative movement in the 1950s and 60s into a charming novel. Ayn Rand fans will be dismayed.
22. Who Walk Alone, Percy Burgess **: Burgess recounts the life of an American soldier who contracts leprosy while fighting in the Philippines during WWI. The reader of this book will learn a lot about the disease and what life was like for people who suffered from it.
23. Abraham Kuyper - God's Renaissance Man, James McGoldrick **: A straightforward biography of a fascinating character in the history of reformed Christianity. Kuyper was a pastor, a theologian, a parliamentarian and eventually the president of the Netherlands.
24. The Language of God, Francis Collins **: Collins was the scientist who headed the team which elucidated the sequence of nucleotides that comprise the human genome. In the book he talks about his journey from atheism to faith and also lays out his blueprint for harmonizing faith and science.
25. Why the Universe Is the Way it Is, Hugh Ross ***: The first part of this book relates some astonishing facts about the fine-tuning of the universe. The second part is more theological and speculative.RLC